Eyes on the prize, Joe
Recent state and national polling predict that US Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is on course for a comfortable Electoral College victory over incumbent President Donald Trump. Along with the midwestern troika of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, whose polls show Biden to be building a solid lead, states like Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Arizona, Ohio and Iowa, all of which went for Trump in the 2016 election, also seem to be in play for the Democratic candidate. But despite the potential to construct a landslide victory in November, Joe Biden should not fall into the trap of over-investing in risky toss-up states that aren’t actually needed to get over the line.
February 29th feels like a lifetime ago, when the world was also a much different place. This was the night of Joe Biden’s decisive victory in the pivotal South Carolina Democratic primary, which proved to be the turning point in what had hitherto been a sluggish start to the presidential race for the former Vice President. Biden had recorded miserable results in the first three contests of the primary, finishing in fourth place by vote share in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire, and second in Nevada. But, buoyed by a series of withdrawals from other primary candidates, Biden’s 29-point romp over his nearest opponent, Bernie Sanders, in South Carolina injected a much-needed shot of adrenaline into the Biden campaign, and catalysed a dominant showing on Super Tuesday, winning 10 of the 14 mainland contests taking place on March 3rd. Having finally become the primary front-runner, Joe Biden never looked back, and continued to run the table in the following contests, leading to Bernie Sanders dropping out of the race on April 6th. The former Vice President officially wrapped up the Democratic nomination exactly 3 months later after he was projected to win a majority of convention delegates.
Now, less than 100 days from Election Day (November 3rd), Joe Biden appears to be the favourite to win the presidential contest, with consistent leads in his primary target states of the mid-West. Some polls have also shown Biden leading in red states such as Arizona, Iowa, Florida, Ohio and North Carolina. Biden is also in play in the Republican heartlands of Georgia and Texas. The Biden campaign has reportedly reserved $65,000 worth of Autumn advertising spots in the Lone Star State, which the Trump campaign has not included in their Autumn ad buy. This speaks volumes about the kind of campaign Joe Biden is running. He is not only seeking to rebuild the Democratic coalition which Donald Trump tore apart in 2016, but also trying to make inroads in traditionally red states which are becoming more demographically favourable to the Democrats.
This aggressive strategy, while pleasing and motivational for Democrats, also carries risk to Joe Biden’s White House hopes. Biden cannot afford to lose Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. These three states offer the most direct path to defeating Donald Trump on November 3rd and winning them alone would give Joe Biden a 278-260 victory in the Electoral College, assuming the remaining states vote exactly how they did in 2016. Indeed, Trump carried these states by such tight margins, that had all the votes for Green candidate Jill Stein gone to Hillary Clinton, President Trump would never have happened. But while polls have shown Joe Biden consistently leading in these three states, his advantage has narrowed in recent weeks. It could be argued that this is to be expected, as undecided and independent voters begin to give their verdict on the race, but it underlines the fact that Biden’s odds of winning back the mid-West are far from guaranteed. One should not forget that polling in all of these states consistently produced similar comfortable leads for Hillary Clinton in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election, and how wrong did they prove to be.
Moreover, if Biden gets carried away and becomes distracted by states like Georgia and Texas, which even at this stage look like long shots for the presumptive Democratic nominee, this will possibly encourage Team Trump to invest more heavily in states that Clinton narrowly won in 2016. Tim Murtaugh, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign, remarked that they “…encourage Biden to spend money in states like Texas, which President Trump will most assuredly win, because it’s money he won’t have to defend states like Minnesota, New Hampshire and Nevada”, all of which Clinton carried by less than 3 percentage points. More importantly, over-investing in pipe dream states limits the resources at Biden’s disposal to get-out-the-vote in states he has the greatest chance of winning in.
Perceptions that the Democratic Party has moved too far to the left and no longer adequately represents the interests of the working class and blue-collar workers have busted long-held political allegiances, and allowed Trump’s brand of conservatism to take root in small towns that were once Democratic strongholds. The Philadelphia Inquirer produced a superb case study on the town of Carbondale in northeast Pennsylvania, situated only around 20 miles away from Scranton, the birthplace of Joe Biden. A largely white, ageing, working-class community, it is one of many communities across the Rust Belt that have struggled as the coal-mining industry diminished. Many of its citizens found new hope in the candidacy of Donald Trump, and consequently swung to the Republicans in 2016, despite voting twice for Obama. Communities like this are ones Biden should be going all-in on if he is serious about rebuilding the Obama coalition and restoring faith in the Democrats among moderates and the working class.
With little over two months until Americans vote in an election that will in largely be seen as a referendum on President Trump, it is currently advantage Biden. The presidency is well within his reach, but now is the time for the former Vice President to keep his eyes on the prize.